New Brunswick

Saint John's 2021 budget $8 million less than 2020

Saint John councillors have approved the city's 2021 budget more than three months early.

24 firefighter positions eliminated as part of cost cutting measures

The city of Saint John has cut $6 million from its workforce budget for 2021. The city fire department has been hit hard. 24 firefighter positions have been eliminated. One fire station will close. (Joseph Comeau, submitted)

Saint John councillors have approved the city's 2021 budget more than three months early.

The $158 million budget is $8 million less than the city's 2020 budget and reflects $6 million in cuts to the city's workforce, especially the fire department and city transit, along with wage freezes, and the closing of a fire station and an arena.

It also sets aside $1.5 million for reserves.

"We really have turned a corner," said Coun. David Merrithew, chair of the city's finance committee.

"We've made some tough, tough decisions. But what we've done is completely right for the citizens of Saint John."

Merrithew congratulated city managers and his fellow councillors, as did Mayor Don Darling who said future councils should adhere to measures like a wage escalation policy approved earlier this year, something that ties salary increases to tax assessment growth.

Long term plan

"I plead with the next council to continue to follow the path, follow the long-term plan," said Darling.

Municipal elections are expected to be held in May 2021.

The budget cuts follow several years of limited growth in the city, with property tax revenue failing to keep pace with rising costs.

Councillor David Merrithew, right, chair of Saint John's Finance Committee, with Finance Commissioner Kevin Fudge in this archive photo. (Connell Smith, CBC)

The budget assumes the city's tax assessment will grow by 1.5 per cent in 2021, and that the annual unconditional grant from the province will remain the same as this year.

If assessment growth is lower than projected, the budget will be adjusted by tapping into the reserve fund.

The city is also managing a second financial crisis brought on by COVID-19, which resulted in lower revenues in areas like parking, transit fares and recreation fees.

Deep cuts

That lead to $4.5 million in spending cuts to the 2020 budget resulting in the shutdown of programs and services and the elimination this spring and summer of much of the casual and seasonal workforce.

The depth of those cuts was evident Monday evening when Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary asked city manager John Collin if the flags for Canada, New Brunswick, and the municipality could be restored at key landmarks, especially Fort Howe, a popular lookout over the city and harbour.

"I don't know how many people, all the veterans in the city, have asked me where the flags are," said McAlary. "People want it, and I appreciate that."

Collin said he would look into the request but noted the city is normally responsible for more than 100 flags.

"This summer, right now as we speak, we are working with 120 less employees than we have in any other summer," said Collin.

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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